(By Paolo Propato, LAc) Having suffered from life-long sinus issues, I found myself at age 24 sitting in a dark room in Florence, Italy as a heavy set man with a big mustache burned moxa cones. The room filled with the strange smell of mugwort smoke. My thought was, “I am paying this guy to help with my sinuses and he is making smoke.” After the session he was smiling and said, “I can help you. It may take some time and you have to do some dietary changes but I can help you.” I still don’t know why I made another appointment, but in the end it saved me from my doctor's push for surgery.
Fast forward to a few years later in Bucks County, when I found myself calling every acupuncturist in the tri-state area asking if I could hang out in their office. As fate would have it the only one kind enough to invite me in was close to home. Grace let me observe and eventually took me on as her assistant as I began to attend three years of grad school in northern New Jersey for acupuncture.
The nights studying, long car rides to school, odd jobs for extra cash-- although tiring and stressful, there was never a moment I thought of stopping. All I wanted was to go deeper into this medicine. The more I stood by Grace's side and watched patients heal, the more I was fueled to keep going. The smell of moxa, so strange years ago, had infused into my cells.
Certain moments stand out that have affected the way I practice. During my time at the student clinic in Montclair, NJ, I treated many cancer patients. CANCER: the word itself makes people shudder. Most of my classmates were much like myself, from lupus to colitis, they'd had some health issue and it was this medicine that had turned it around, inspiring them to study acupuncture. From my faith in their experiences and in Grace's clinic, I asked to take on these patients. I knew acupuncture could help, and it did.
I remember a patient of ours with cancer who did a tribal African dance for a classmate's baby shower.
As she danced life poured out of her, filling the room. I teared up; when we first began treating her she was not supposed to have made it this long, and here she was, life of the party. It was then that I understood not to get caught up in the label of the disease, but to treat the root.
Once at Grace's side a patient was suffering from migraines. Prior to her treatment the patient was telling me that the migraines were better, the acupuncture was working. Usually patients say these statements with a smile, but she was more just stating a fact. On the table she seemed uneasy and later on we received an email that she was stopping treatment. I could not understand, why stop now that she was so close. Then I looked at the heading of the email: it was titled "MYGRAINE." It was then I understood that we have relationships with our illnesses and pains, and the process of growing out of them can sometimes be daunting.
There are many other cases that stand out as holding a lesson that helped to shape me as a practitioner. Really, every treatment has done so, no matter if it was for an autoimmune disease, the common cold, or the sciatica that we treat day in and day out. Every single one is unique. No matter the presentation the body is always trying to heal even without the needles or moxa. The body is always trying to find balance. And now I find myself saying, “ I can help, may take some time. You may have to do some dietary changes but I can help.”